Defying Gravity

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Last year, after listening to the music for quite some time, I finally saw Wicked on stage. Since I grew up watching Wizard of Oz once a year on television (our only option back in the dark ages of video technology), I enjoyed the new spin on an old story. One song still sticks in my brain and pops into my thoughts on occasion. Actually, it’s only one line that keeps on repeating itself. In my imagination, I can hear Elphaba declaring that she will try defying gravity. More than once, as I’ve trudged up my stairs feeling low, I’ve heard those three words resound within my thoughts. I want to try defying gravity this year too.

Before you think me crazy for wanting to fly, let me tell you exactly what I mean.

My grandson is so delightfully quick to laugh. I suspect you and I were the same way as toddlers. When does that fade? And why? I know that Nick is unaware of the difficulties adulthood will bring, but he also knows little of the joys that await him. He laughs in the present moment.

We live in a world that fixates on the grave details of life, and not just the ones that are facing us today. We mull over the pain of the past and our fears of the future, often for no good reason at all. Matthew 6:34 says, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Actually, I like the King James Version of that verse even better, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And as we face the “evil” of each day, how often do we falsely imagine ourselves facing it alone, forgetting the One who goes before us and stands behind us?

Here is how I want to try defying gravity. When heavy concerns come into my brain, I want to take them to my Lord in prayer without pause. When I catch myself frowning with furrowed brow, I want to lighten my countenance in a way that confirms the song God has put in my heart. And when I am tempted to join a discussion centered only on the failures of man or the bleak landscape ahead, I want to either walk away or change the course of the conversation. Who would have thought the Wicked Witch of the West could remind me of such important truths? This year, I hope you will try to defy gravity right along with me.

 

YOUARENOWHERE

Youarenowhere

How do you read the sentence above? Where do you insert the necessary spaces? Perhaps you see “You are now here.” On the other hand, you may have read “You are nowhere.”

I saw those letters inscribed in the pavement on a path around Town Lake in Austin not long ago. Most likely, my thoughts were wandering away from the moment, as they tend to do far too often. (I know, I’ve written about this before. It’s a point worth driving home yet again.) Here is how that cemented scribble struck me.

Perhaps we have a choice between the two interpretations. Either we are now here or we are nowhere. Perhaps if we are not living in the present moment, we aren’t really, fully living at all.

It’s so easy to leave the here and now. We look backwards, asking the could’ve, should’ve, would’ve questions that send us down a judgmental path of evaluating our own now finished words, choices, and accomplishments (or lack thereof). And for what? Does it help anything to rehash last night’s conversation and wonder if we were foolish or intelligent in our comments? Does it help to wonder endlessly what might have happened if we had chosen a different course of work or study in our youth, or settled in a different town or…

And then, of course, there’s all the “what if’s” and “how-am-I-going-to’s” that can draw us into a future that hasn’t yet arrived—another waste of time, most of the time.

I’ve been faced with a surprising set of health challenges lately. Boy, talk about the temptation to look behind! Could I have prevented this? Should I have gone to the doctor sooner? Would I have done something different if I had had more information? And then there are the future “worries” that try to sneak in and steal my joy. A dear friend, one facing similar challenges, said it best: “I wake up every morning and I say to myself, ‘This is the day the Lord has made, and I’m going to rejoice in it.'”

Do you feel good today? Praise God for that. If yesterday was a “disaster” or tomorrow is going to be tough, so be it. TODAY you feel good. Is today one of the tough days? Never mind what might have been done differently in the past. Time travel is not an option. Never mind whether or not you will face the same, or even greater, difficulty tomorrow. TODAY, God’s grace is sufficient. Always, He is kind, loving, and enough. So, today, you are now here!

Life Is Good or Be Still Part 2

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I’ve long been a fan of the Life is Good company. They make tee shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers that simply make me smile. But those products only illustrate the easy, breezy, happy times of life: going fishing, kicking a soccer ball, drinking cocoa by a bonfire. Life is good, but it isn’t always a picnic. It’s good for an entirely different reason.

Life is good because we have the power of God. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).

Life is good because we have the presence of God. “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:7).

Life is good because our problems are in God’s hands and solved by him. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

That last verse, though, does not promise us a picnic. It promises us a plan, God’s plan. A great preacher taught me that, “Knowing God is even better than knowing the outcome. God is good all the time.” God’s plan is worth the pain that life sometimes brings. We can all rest assured that he will work things out for the best for his children.

Our Lord says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”(Psalm 46:10). One version replaces the words “be still” with “cease striving.” Cease striving. Isn’t that a challenge for all of us who live in this hustle, bustle, do-it-all, get-to-the-top world? Nevertheless, because we have the power and presence of the Lord, we can, as that same pastor taught me:

  • Stay cool
  • Relax
  • Chill Out
  • Cease Striving
  • Trust Him

Based on a sermon by Jim Armstrong at Northwest Bible Church on December 27, 2015.

A Is for Lighten Up

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I have “Type A” tendencies. I like to get up early, be on time, keep my house neat, cross things off my to do list as quickly as possible and… you get the picture. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not so much. Years ago, though, the Lord whispered a line of instruction into my heart, “Seek my perfection.” I understood that to mean “Hey, Brenda, make sure what you think is important lines up with what the Lord thinks is important.”

Lately, I have another phrase floating through my head. “Imperfection is a beautiful thing.” This thought may seem to contradict the first one. In reality, though, they both point to an important truth for those of us who sometimes get bogged down in getting things right: What God considers perfect and what I consider perfect are often two very different things.

In Matthew 5:48, Jesus tells his listeners (and therefore us as well) to be perfect, but he wasn’t talking about how quickly the dishes get done or the bills get paid. He was talking about sin, about how we can only be saved through him. Here’s an interesting article discussing that verse: http://beyeperfect.org/project/become-perfect/ . That kind of perfection isn’t what I’m writing about today, though. I’m concerned with the sort of perfection that can keep our minds and our schedules too tied up to enjoy a life of service and a peaceful heart.

  • Remember Jane Jetson, of the space age cartoon? She would only answer her photo phone after she had donned her “perfect face” mask and wig. Looking perfect takes a lot of time. I’m learning to be okay with a few “warts” showing.
  • Ever read Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Mains? She learned that not-so-perfect living rooms often make people feel more welcome than Southern Living style showcases. I’m learning to live with a few dust bunnies here and there.
  • And while I still think punctuality is the best plan as a general rule, sometimes life just gets in the way. When promptness becomes impossible, what good does it do to spend the next hour or so wallowing in self-incrimination (or, worse yet, in anger toward some other person who made you late)? Ten minutes of tardiness can become an hour of distraction in no time at all. Not good.

Do I think we should all become lazy, messy and late? No. But we do need to become transparent, vulnerable and willing to let go of our own priorities when they don’t match up with God’s order of the day. Sometimes his plan may call for

  • A late night phone call that puts me into a slow fog the next morning.
  • A short notice hospital visit that tanks the day’s schedule.
  • An unexpected visitor when the kitchen floor is sticky or I haven’t brushed my hair.
  • Checklist items that go permanently undone simply because there’s something more important to do.

And so, I begin this day hoping the Lord’s priorities will become my own and wondering, “What does ‘seeking his perfection’ look like in your life?”

Basic Blessings, Part Two

abundance

Years ago, I learned of the global water crisis. In much of the world, women will walk miles every morning, each bringing back a 5 gallon container filled with 40 pounds of dirty water. It will have to suffice for all their families’ needs until the end of the day, when they repeat the trip. Many who drink the water will fall ill, but they have no other choice.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that a great many organizations are working to help change the situation: Living Water International, charity: water, Blood:Water Mission, and The Water Project are just a few of the ministries changing lives every day, working to make the water crisis a thing of the past. Recently, a friend told me about Partners for Care, an organization whose mission is to provide salaries to Kenyans who carry out their work and vision there. Their health, sanitation and water improvement programs are led and accomplished by Kenyans for Kenyans.

One of the Kenyans, a pastor, came to the USA for the first time in order to meet with the staff of Partners for Care. As you can imagine, the cultural differences he saw here were astounding. His observations were both amusing and thought provoking. I’ve been given permission to share them with you.

  • “Is it illegal for people not to own a car?” (He hadn’t seen anyone walking.)
  • “Are you allowed to drive old cars in the US?” (By Kenyan standards all our cars are new.)
  • “Is there hot water in the shower, and is the tap water safe to drink?”
  • “I slept with my blanket over my head last night. I could not find any mosquito netting.”
  • “America is dollar country because it has everything. You can even sleep outside, because there are no wild animals to eat you. Americans have plenty of firewood, but most don’t even need it.” (He mentioned that he was expecting a call from his family soon to say that they had run out of firewood.)
  • “How can you throw food away?” (He had even eaten the little package of butter at a restaurant because he didn’t want to see it wasted.)

Today I will take a hot shower, drink clean water, eat plenty of food, ride in a new (ish) car, and go to sleep in a climate controlled, mosquito-free bedroom. And because of that Kenyan Pastor, I’ll be more keenly aware of those basic blessings! Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

Pumpkin Carving with a Twist

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I read this in, of all places, a Forbes Magazine article last October (and I’ve been saving it for you until now!)

News flash! Carving a pumpkin from the bottom affords a host of advantages.

  • The seeds are far more easily removed.
  • The stem becomes a convenient handle for carrying your artistic results.
  • Set the finished product on top of a candle and voila! Instant luminaria!

What could information like that possibly have to do with trusting the Lord? Simply this: Quite often God’s ways look backwards and upside down to us, even though they are precisely right and true and best for us.

Today, as I write this, I’m in the middle of a host of trivial yet frustrating “not what I had planned” scenarios.

  • I’m at the beach, but it’s cold and rainy. (Approximate wind speed 16 miles per hour.)
  • We invited a guest, but she had to cancel last minute.
  • I could use the rest, but our accommodations are filled with fumes from a recent paint job. They make my head pound.
  • So I schlepped my gear to a local coffee shop to catch up on things but, unlike my table companion, I have virtually no internet connection no matter how many times I hit the restart button.

However, all of those unplanned and somewhat disappointing items are the reason that I’m writing. I love writing, but all too often let all the other details of life come before putting my thoughts down on paper (uh, not paper these days, but you know what I mean.) And so, all those “disappointments” have led me to precisely what I really need to do right now. Today isn’t really as upside down as it looks.

Is your life upside down today? Perhaps if you ask the Lord to do so, he will show you why. Maybe things are better this way than your way. And if you find that is indeed the case, won’t you take a moment to share with us in the comments section how your upside down day turned out to be right side up?